Thursday, February 02, 2006

About the New York Times's racist silence on Coretta Scott King

I want to give a shout and a thanks to C.I. Now there's any number of reasons on any number of days for me to do that. But this is specifically regarding this:

From the war to Coretta Scott King. We have a a highlight but before we get to that . . . Does the New York Times believe that Coretta Scott King's passing didn't matter?
This week Wendy Wasserstein passed away and it was a tragedy. On the day the New York Times front paged their article on Wasserstein, they also featured a lengthy editorial (signed by Gail Collins). One would assume, with Coretta Scott King's historical significance (a level few ever reach but she did), that at the minimum she would receive the same level of coverage as a playwright. That still hasn't happened. The Times editorial board either doesn't appear to know King died or they just don't care. In addition to refusing to run an editorial on King's passing, there have been no op-eds on her passing. It's not Bob Herbert's job (as the only African-American columnist on the op-ed pages of the Times) to cover every 'Black' issue so the Times doesn't have to be bothered. Coretta Scott King is historical for every race in this country. And let's not pretend Herbert covers Coretta Scott King today. He doesn't. He opens with a quote by her and she's not mentioned again until the second to last paragraph of a 21 paragraph column. The Times can't pretend that was a column about Coretta Scott King. (Check my math and I'm including the quote that opens the column as a paragraph.)
Exactly when will the New York Times get around to noting that Coretta Scott King passed away. Was she not friends with Gail Collins? Is that the criteria for getting an editorial on your passing written? At present, they have noted her death with only one article (which they did front page) and her passing is mentioned in a column today by Herbert (a column that's not about her life or her passing -- it's a state of the world column).
Now maybe some people missed it, but they want the King Center to be turned over to the government, the paper does. No surprise there, we noted that here before the editorial made it into the paper (ahead of the editorial by many days, I believe five or six days ahead of the editorial being printed). What to do with property, on that they have something to say. With regards to Coretta Scott King, they're strangely silent.

I asked Mike about it and he said C.I. and him were talking about this yesterday and C.I. thought, "Okay, they're in love with the official talk, so day after the State of the Union, that's all their editorials will be about." So C.I. waited to see what happened the day after that day.

Still nothing. Mike said when he called C.I. today, C.I. was especially furious that the paper found the time to editorialize today on the Oscars but not on Coretta Scott King.

I've talked about this before (at my old site) and Betty and I've talked about it in roundtables at The Third Estate Sunday Review (probably Ty weighed in as well) but whether it's online or in print, African-Americans do look to see if we're included. Are our stories covered? Are our historic moments noted?

If they aren't, we know it's really not an inclusive paper or TV show or website. We can take a hint and we don't use those resources in large numbers as a result of the hints dropped.

It's 2006 and C.I. has to remind the New York Times of Coretta Scott King's historical importance. That's really shameful on the part of the paper. It'll be interesting to see if anyone else bothers to pick up the drumbeat or if they all act like, "Oh, that's not really important." You can tell who really is inclusive by what they determine is "important."

If really are all in this together, then our actions need to demonstrate that. And doing an editorial on a playwright, any playwright, dying but then ignoring the death of Coretta Scott King doesn't say much about you. The New York Times should be embarrassed and ashamed that they still haven't devoted an editorial or an op-ed to Coretta Scott King's death.

They may feel it's not racism but what is racism but ignorance?

They can editorialize about the King Center but they don't have a word for Coretta Scott King?

I was disappointed in Bob Herbert's op-ed (no link since you have to pay to read their op-eds) but just because he's African-American doesn't mean it's his job to write about Mrs. King. I know Betty's going to pick up on this topic and Mike will too but this is racist. A historical figure dies and the paper's editorials and op-eds don't bother to cover it. A playwright who was friends with Gail Collins (the editor of the paper's editorial pages) dies and she gets a lengthy editorial penned by Collins. It goes without saying that the playwright was White.

This happened with John H. Johnson's death as well. And I'm getting real tired of having to depend on The Common Ills to be the one calling out racism. Don't get me wrong, I love C.I. for it. But I really don't think this is something that only one person in the world can notice. Time and again, it falls on C.I. to speak about what no one notices or doesn't want to talk about.

On the plus side, that's why the community has such a large number of African-American members. Probably why the community has such a large number of people of color to begin with. The Common Ills never winked "Whites Only," it's always been a site that's been welcoming.

I'll give you an example. In April, C.I. asked members who spoke Spanish to find a periodical they could endorse and a committee of members was set up for that. They've yet to find a periodical they could all agree on. They've come close but so far, they're still looking. As they've looked, Democracy Now! has begun offering their headlines in Spanish. As soon as that happened, the committee decided that might be a weekly entry (and it has been). So three members of the committe (Maria, Francisco or Miguel) take responsibility for compiling headlines in Spanish and English once a week. That may be all the committee can ever come up with. A periodical should be of the left and it should represent all equally (from Honduras to Mexico, from Spain to Puerto Rico, go down the list) and they've examined a number of them but always found the suggestion lacking. (So much so that they're even floating the idea, which C.I. says is fine, of just picking a mainstream periodical that's in Spanish.) But that's the sort of thing that C.I. thinks about and doesn't wait for it to become an issue.

It's why if you send in something to highlight, C.I. always asks that if it's important to you (and not just something you found "interesting") that you say that in your e-mail. C.I. doesn't pretend to know everything, every issue or every person, and sometimes the people that the majority know the least about are the people we really should know about.

Thanks to Elaine who called me earlier this evening and advised me to save this entry before attempting to publish it. She and Mike had huge problems with Blogger and Rebecca couldn't even log in. I was able to save it, I wasn't able to publish it. Hopefully, I can publish it now. Like Rebecca, Betty's been unable to log in. I called C.I. and no problems on that end but C.I.'s immersed in the Church Committee entry and redoing whole sections on the advice of friends the entry was shown to today. Look for that at The Common Ills (hopefully tonight) because the section C.I. read me over the phone was pretty powerful.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coretta Scott King, 1927-2006

Civil Rights Icon Coretta Scott King, 1927-2006
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Joseph Lowery and Herb Boyd reflect on the legacy of freedom fighter Coretta Scott King, the widow of Martin Luther King Jr.

That's from today's Democracy Now! and they did a strong job organizing it basically while they were on the air. Juan Gonzalez filled in for Amy Goodman who's somewhere overseas. They announced where but it's been a daze day due to the news of the passing of Mrs. King.

1927 seems so long ago and that may be due to the fact Mrs. King aged well. My cousin pointed out that Jack Nicholson and Jane Fonda are only a decade younger. (He pointed that out when someone trying to be silly on a sad day said, "Black don't crack!" No one was in the mood for yucks and ha-has today.)

It is so strange and distant to think of Mrs. King not being in this world with us any longer. I grew up hearing about her, reading about her and, honestly, kind of feeling her. There's a sadness that sort of falls today and it's really sad.

Dr. King was taken from us before people my age were even born but we had Mrs. King and she just always seemed like this smiling, kind giant, so strong and so comforting. They killed her husband and she still found her way to love the world. Growing up, I got angry and mad about Dr. King being assassinated and I'm sure she did as well. But she was just this ocean of gentleness.

You knew she could stand up to anyone and would do it. But she just radiated sweetness and kindness. I can't believe she's gone.

I looked at The Third Estate Sunday Review today because I knew she'd been brought up in discussions there and I found these two things in November.

First, "Five Books, Five Minutes:"

Rebecca: C.I., Elaine and I have all been joking back and forth with each other at our sites about books we give to each other. One book that C.I. gave me that I've always meant to read but never gotten around to was Alice Walker's In Search Of Our Mother's Gardens.
Ty: This was a great book. These are essays, the subtitle to the book is "womanist prose," and they are some outstanding essays. Like most people, I knew Walker's fiction. And we've read some of her poetry for discussions here. But this was my first time reading any of her essays.With a lot of writers, you read one genre and that's their solid footing. Walker's really able to work in various genres and do strong work throughout. My favorite was "The Unglamorous but Worthwhile Duties of the Black Revolutionary Artist, or of the Black Writer Who Simply Works and Writes."
Cedric: I'd agree that's a good one but for me the one that stood out was "Coretta King Revisted" due to Coretta Scott King's recent health problems.
Betty: I actually skipped that one because her stroke still saddens me. She's someone who's always been larger than life to me, someone to look up to and, since her stroke, the tears well up too easily so I took a pass on that essay. Her essay on Buchi Emecheta's Second Class Citizen was the one that had me thinking the most.

Second, a later "Five Books, Five Minutes:"

Cedric: One thing that puzzled me was why the host of the discussion between Malcolm X and Rustin wasn't identified except as "HOST"? I'm also wondering who you found yourself siding with in the discussion?

Jess: For me, it was Malcolm. I know his writing and his story, so I may have been filling in details that I wasn't able to with Rustin but I got the impression that Rustin grew more cautious with age.
Betty: I'd agree with that except for the issue of sexuality. That reads cautious today but for the time period, that is a big deal. And I'll add that he was known within the civil rights movment as gay and, in fact, within the nation since an arrest was used by a White senator to force Rustin out of the movement. But in terms of discussing his sexuality publicly, that's in the eighties. And it was a big deal.
Cedric: And you can say it still is a big deal because Rustin is one of the civil rights pioneer, very essential to the movement, and he's not someone that is stressed when you hear of the civil rights movement.
Betty: I'd agree with that. I'd add that it's part of our community's, I'm speaking of the Black community and directing the "our" to Cedric, refusal or reluctance to address the issue of sexuality and orientation. I think it's embarrassing. Of course some do address it. But we've allowed it to be a something that can turn against each other. Bully Boy's been able to use it with some Black churches, sexual orientation, to turn them against their own interests. In my church we had to deal with it, we had too many members and families of members who were dealing with AIDS. It's one of the healthiest things we've done. With the empahis on family in the Black community, I look skeptical at any Black person that tells me they've never met a gay or lesbian. They are in our families, they are in our churches and it distresses that a White Bully Boy has been allowed by some "Black leaders" to turn us against each other. There's some idiot. and I use that term by choice, Cedric's also heard him, his "sermons" get passed around in e-mails. And for someone so supposedly opposed to gays and lesbians, he sure knows a lot about gay sex and he sure seems to enjoy talking about it in terms that I can't imagine sex being talked about in my church.
Cedric: Yeah, that guy is an idiot. And every month or so, it'll pop up in an e-mail forward to someone in the office and they'll be giggling at it. They say, if you ask them, they're laughing at how stupid he is. Well that doesn't help the race either, flaunting ignorance. I really do not have respect for people who pass that around, either out of their own beliefs or to giggle over.Ty: And this goes to what erases Rustin for history and how a race whose leaders want to fuss and fret over language don't want to address serious issues. I mean, where is Bill Cosby on this issue? Where his speech on the need for us to embrace one another?
Betty: Exactly, you can list the leaders who've addressed this topic in any form and it's a small list. Coretta Scott King and Julian Bond would be on the list but a lot of other so-called "brave" voices wouldn't be. I like Jesse Jackson but I don't respect his opinions on this issue.Rebecca: Which is interesting that you cite him when Rustin cites him as one of the people working to turn MLK against him.
Ty: And it's forty years later and he still hasn't changed his tune.
Cedric: I don't know if Dona wants to call time or not, I know we've got Betty's pick still to do.
Dona: No, this has been an interesting discussion and we can extend. We actually have two more books.
Cedric: Well I'll make my comment and try to be brief about it. Some African-Americans are offended when sexual orientation is likened to race. And it's not just that. You heard some nonsense about "Cindy Sheehan is no Rosa Parks!" As though allowing someone else to build on a very powerful movement will erase Ms. Parks. It won't. It will only extend her reach and future generations' knowlege of her. I hear, everyone hears, modern day comparisons to George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or whomever. They become points of reference. I can understand the fear here because any minority group risks being stripped of whatever place in history they've earned. But while realizing that, we should realize that part of what makes Whites such a point of history, besides who got to draw it up, is that it is a short hand. Most people couldn't tell you where Thomas Jefferson was born. But they can use him as a point of reference. When the civil rights movement is used as a point of reference, I think it extends the movement, keeps it alive in history and increases knowledge. Otherwise it's going to be confined to one time, one period, one group and it will be ghetto-ized in terms of how history is taught. I'm thrilled that we have our African-American heroes but I want to see them be heroes for all. They fought as hard as anyone else and they are a part of American history. I was thrilled to hear some people calling Cindy Sheehan the Rosa Parks of the peace movement. I see it as a huge improvement over years of someone being "the Black __" who ever. We have heroic figures and their struggles are heroic. If they inspire people that's a great thing, regardless of race. The point of teaching Black History is to get it back into our understanding of history. It's a part of American history and hopefully it will be worked into American history more and more with each generation. I'm done.
Ty: I'll add that I agree with Cedric. I've attended predominately African-American schools and predominatley White ones. And I've seen a "Oh, it's Black history" type collective groan at some of the White schools. In standing up for her race, Rosa Parks stood up for a better nation.I didn't always hear that point in made in school.

If you were talking about civil rights then or now (and civil rights is still a battle to be fought today), you couldn't have much of a conversation without mentioning Mrs. King. She really was something special and that's going to have be it because this is upsetting to write about.